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Compensation for Wrongful Detention: A Case Study

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 18 Aug 2015 |
Compensation Claim Court Detention

A man was stopped in his car by a police officer, who was under orders to stop a Ford Capri car and arrest the driver for fraud. The officer spotted a car that fitted the description and flagged it down. He arrested the man and searched the car. Inside, he found a number of very valuable stolen items hidden in the boot. The man said that the items were not his and that he did not know or believe them to be stolen because he didn’t know they were there. He continued to try to reason with the police officer but the police officer arrested him, and he was taken to the police station, interviewed and charged with handling stolen goods. The man pleaded not guilty at trial but was convicted by a jury and sent to prison.

The Appeal

Then the man’s lawyers appealed on the basis that the arrest had not been lawful. For an officer to be able to arrest someone, he must have ‘reasonable suspicion’ about a crime, whether that crime is:
  • about to be committed
  • is being committed
  • has been committed.

The questions that have to be asked in this respect are:

  • did the officer have ‘reasonable suspicion’ in his mind at the time he made the arrest?
  • were those grounds of suspicion reasonable to a person who knows the law?
  • did the officer tell the man why he was being arrested?
  • did anything happen that prevented the officer from telling the suspect the reasons for his being arrested?
  • given the answers to all of the above, was it necessary to make an arrest?

Was There Reasonable Suspicion?

As the officer stopped the man in his car because he was looking for a fraudster, he did not have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the man had committed an arrestable offence about the stolen goods and therefore the arrest was unlawful. As a result his appeal was allowed and he was released from prison.

The Criminal Case

After he was released, bizarre new evidence came to light that actually revealed that the stolen items had been put in the back of the vehicle by a criminal. The criminal had somehow mistaken the man’s car for the car of his accomplice. The two criminals had arranged to meet in a supermarket car park and to put the goods in the back of a car. The criminal, finding the car unlocked, mistakenly put the stolen items in the wrong car.

The New DNA Evidence

When police apprehended the real criminals, it became apparent that there had been a real miscarriage of justice. Advances in forensic technology showed traces of one of the real perpetrators’ DNA on the items that had not been detectable before.

The Compensation Claim

The man made an application for compensation through his lawyers to the Secretary of State, for the time he had spent in prison. The Secretary of State determined that, albeit a highly unusual case, the man should be entitled to compensation for the time that he had spent in custody. He was awarded £3500.

Civil Actions Against the Police

In other cases, it may be more appropriate to bring a civil action against the police. This is essentially a county or high court claim for damages. The grounds upon which these can be brought include: assault, false imprisonment, trespass, negligence, a breach of human rights legislation, malicious prosecution and racial discrimination.

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